Tag Archives: Developmental Objectives

Intention Deficit Disorder

While ADD,  or attention deficit disorder,  is a term frequently referred to in educational and developmental settings (an intriguing article on which can be found here), I’d like to introduce another term, one directed at us as adults.  IDD, or Intention Deficit Disorder is not a disorder you’ll find the DSM-IV diagnostic manual, but it’s one I see in frequently in adults working with children, and even in myself from time to time. 

Intention Deficit Disorder is characterized by action without meaning or purpose.  Busyness without intention.  It isn’t so much about what the activity is, it’s whether or not we are able to recognize why we are doing it.  And as I’ve mentioned before, when we can recognize what we are teaching (or what our purpose is) we can emphasize that aspect in order to maximize the outcome. 

dino scales

So here’s an easy example.  Not too long ago I planned an art activity like the one above.  The children were to tear tiny pieces of colorful paper and glue them to the dinosaur outline.  My purpose was to build on a discussion about scales and to encourage the development of those underdeveloped fine motor skills used to tear tiny pieces of paper.  Unfortunately, I apparently didn’t convey this purpose effectively to the other adult helping with the activity and in her effort to speed things along she grabbed a pair of scissors and quickly snipped up a pile of little papers for the children to use.  Because I didn’t help her to recognize the purpose of the activity, she failed to emphasize that aspect (the tearing), and an opportunity to maximize the outcome (fine motor skills) was lost.

Often with Intention Deficit Disorder, the emphasis becomes the product or the appearance as the outcome, rather than the development of the skills and abilities we otherwise only hope for.  Intention implies planning.  As we select activities we have to ask ourselves, “What is the purpose?”  I’ll be the first to admit that I’ll sometimes pick activities to do with the children I love and teach simply because they catch my eye, sound like fun, or fit with my scheduled theme.  Even with these activities, if I simply ask myself, “What is the purpose?” I can often find something that I can emphasize to maximize a developmental outcome.  And if I can’t, I find a better use of time.

I watched recently as an early childhood teacher led her group of little ones through a Halloween art project.  As I’ve mentioned before, there is a spectrum of preschool arts and crafts, and while I’d prefer to see more creative arts, I do believe there is a place for crafts….that is if you know your purpose.  Well, in this classroom situation the teacher directed her class to use their paper strips to form two black rings.  Then they were to take a white strip and connect the first two rings.  Lastly they added another white strip to the end of the chain. 

By the time the children (and I) made sense of the directions it was clear that they were creating a paper chain with an ABAB pattern.  This was a prime math concept for the group of children doing the project.  Emphasizing this concept would have made the whole project so much more worthwhile!  The children would have had the opportunity to quickly learn about AB patterns in a mini-lesson, complete the art activity as a hands-on application of the concept, and then be reminded of the concept every time they looked at their festive Halloween decoration hanging up at home.  Instead, they had a paper Halloween craft that took a hefty chunk of class time and had an undefined purpose (other than the product), and a lack of intention.

Intention has a lot to do with planning, not just in direct planning but in being prepared to take advantage of the opportunities that lie in unplanned moments.  Life is busy, and as they say, it comes at you fast.  We all have to learn to roll with the punches, and no one knows how to adapt like a parent or teacher of young children. But when you know what you’re about, what you want to teach and encourage, you can find opportunities to do so in almost everything around you.  A trip to the grocery store becomes a letter hunt with your preschooler.  Outdoor play time becomes a springboard for a discussion about observable aspects of the changing seasons.  Even spilled orange juice provides an opportunity to teach and train as you involve the child in cleaning up instead of doing it for them.  There are teachable moments everywhere, if you are prepared and intentional.

When you plan your overall intention – whether in a core curriculum or course outline, or in a family mission statement or value statement – you become more intentional about every other choice and interaction.

In order to live and teach with intention, your purpose doesn’t have to be the same as someone else’s as long as you know what it is and it aligns with your value structure.  You might have children paint with watercolors to encourage creativity and fine motor skills while another may introduce it as a way to emphasize primary and secondary colors, while still another may incorporate it into a language-building book activity, and yet one more might choose it to encourage social empathy as they make cards and pictures to share with someone who’s been under the weather.  When you know your purpose, whatever it is, you are able to teach with intention.

Spend some time thinking about what you really want for the children that you love and teach.  Do you just want them to be busy or to be quiet?  Those are goals that often give the appearance of an educational setting, but offer little purpose in and of themselves.  Set out developmental objectives for the children you love and teach.  Consider the whole child, including social-emotional, creative, spiritual, and physical development right along with the typical cognitive goals set out in typical school curricula.  Consider what you really hope for and turn that into intention.  Use your intentions and purposes as filters.  We can simplify our classrooms and our homes by knowing our intentions and living and teaching by them.    Begin to recognize that we don’t have to do everything.  We just have to do what matters most.

Top photo by Piotr Banola.

Grocery photo by Pavel Losevsky, Photo Xpress.

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Know Where You’re Going – Using a Developmental Checklist as a Guide


As you begin to plan out your preschool curriculum for the year, it helps to know where your children are developmentally so that you know where you want to “go”.  One way I like to do that is with a developmental checklist.  You can buy developmental checklists and programs like the POCET or the Portage Guide ,or if you’re a nerd like I am, you can look through position statements and curriculum guides and develop your own.  I put together one based on several resources, as well as my own philosophy and program.  It seems best to fit my needs.  If you accept the caveat that I have not been commissioned by a higher authority to create this as the perfect assessment piece, you’re welcome to use it as well.  Just click on Broad Developmental Assessmentto find the PDF file.  (Feel free to comment with any questions you may have about using this checklist, or comment on how you’ve adapted it to meet your needs.)

Here’s how I use it.  At the beginning of the year, during my parent meeting, I hand out an assessment to each parent.  I explain that I developed this list to guide my activities,  NOT as a judgement of their children.   It is NOT intended as a checklist of all the skills their children should be able to do already, or that they should even be able to check everything by the time they finish the year.  ( In fact, I intentionally put some skills on the list that are actually considered kindergarten skills, just to show the progression of those skills.)  What this checklist does, is show me where the children are on their skills and what they accomplish through the year.  It helps me to stay focused on providing opportunities within the ZPD of the children, to develop the skills that have not yet been mastered, while at the same time not going too far beyond their skill level. 

Here’s an example.  If I notice that none of the children has mastered patterns, I may work that into a small group activity.  If only a few children need exposure to that skill I may approach them as they play at the working tables and use the manipulatives there (such as geo tiles or lacing beads) to introduce the concept individually.  Likewise, if I need to assess how well the children manipulate scissors, or if many of the children need more experience with this motor skill, I would plan a cutting activity at the art table.  The purpose of the checklist is really more as a guide for my teaching than an evaluation of the child.

AT the meeting, I have the parents fill out the checklist, writing the child’s name on the top, and marking each skill they have already observed as mastered.  (They can simply put a check in the date column.)  Then I have them star three or so items to indicate those skills they would most like to see their child develop, so that I have an idea of where the parents assess their own child’s needs.  (These starred items would also be great to discuss at a beginning of year parent-teacher conference.)

Once I have the completed lists, I put them in a binder with a tab for each child, followed by their checklist and a few blank pages.  On the blank pages I can make any notes that may go along with the observations.  I number them as I enter them, and then write the number in the comments column next to the skill, so that I know that there is a comment associated with the skill.

With these checklists as my guide, I can more easily determine which skills I need to incorporate as I do my planning.  With a focused guide I can chart an effective course for learning by giving the children the right opportunities at the right time.

Photo provided by lusi.

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Preschool Math

Photo provided by pk2000.

Many people believe that preschool math begins and ends with counting.  In reality, there are so many facets of mathematics addressed in the preschool years that truly lay the groundwork for the algebra and calculus to come!

Classification / Sorting / Seriation

Young children are often natural collectors.  Observe them as they play on their own with these prized collections.  Do they separate the race cars from the monster trucks?  Do they sort their favorite candies into piles according to color?  Do they line up their self-sheared pretzel sticks shortest to tallest?  These types of activities that often come naturally (or easily with a little suggestion), and display an important early math skill.  The ability to identify the different characteristics within a group, plays a key role in concepts such as recording and interpreting data, charting and graphing, and predictions and probability.

Numbers and Operations

These are the concepts many automatically think of when they think of math.  Numbers, adding, subtracting.  There’s more to it, however.  Many children learn to “count” early, reciting a memorized list of number names, but to actually count they must understand that one number name goes to one item in the group.  It also includes the concepts of “more than” and “less than” (something preschoolers grasp very quickly when candy is involved).  Recognizing written numerals and connecting them with their number names is another task often overlooked as a learning objective all its own.  Once again, we must remember that written numerals, even number names, are abstract concepts when compared with raw amounts – our “piles of stuff”.  Children need hands on experiences, with interactive discussion, to fuse together the concept that this “pile of stuff” is the same as the word “seven”, which is the same as the numeral “7”.  Once they understand the link between grouped items and quantified terms, they can advance to justifying their claims of “He has more than I do!” by saying, “He has 9 and I have 4”.  Further operations can be explored to find out how, exactly, justice can prevail, and both parties end up with equal amounts. 

Time and Sequence

Most preschoolers are too young to learn how to read an analog clock, but they do need to build the foundation for time and sequence by using and understanding terms such as “yesterday”, “tomorrow”, “in five minutes”, or “last week”.  Sequential terms such as “before”, and “after” and ordinal numbers (first, second, third, etc.) also build the concepts of time and sequence.  Recognizing the days of the week and their typical activities (“Today is Monday.  We go to the library on Mondays.”) also strengthens this skill.  Involving children in regular conversations about and throughout the day goes a long way in building this foundation.  Talk with children about what you’re doing, what you’ll do next and about how much time has passed.  Make picture schedules to show the order of routines.  Talk about future and past events and make comparisons of time.  (“Lunch is in one hour.  That’s about as long as Sesame Street.”)


Children should be exposed to the concept of measurement, not necessarily in the sense that they would use inches and feet, but other familiar standard units.  How many blocks long is your foot?  Which uses more blocks to measure, the door or the window?  Compare weight by using a basic balance and discussing heavier/lighter.  Volume is often compared using containers in the sensory table.

Geometric Shapes

In the preschool years, children begin to learn basic geometry when they learn to identify and create simple shapes, such as circles, squares, triangles, diamonds, and on and on.  Children generally first learn the shapes in isolation, but then may also learn how to identify shapes within a picture (that tractor wheel is a circle) or create a new picture using shapes. 


Unlocking the mystery of patterns is the foundation for many mathematic and scientific breakthroughs.  It begins simply for preschoolers, with the basic ABAB pattern (circle, square, circle, square).  Children first learn to complete the pattern and then learn to create it on their own.  Children then progress to more complex patterns, such as ABBA, or AABBAA, and on an on.  You can expose your children to patterns in riddle form with almost any repeating objects.  You can use shapes cut from felt, black and red checkers, or even silverware on the table.  Start out the pattern, “Here’s a fork, spoon, fork, spoon, fork.  What comes next?”  You can present it as a riddle or a game, “Guess the Pattern”, or even “Read My Mind”.  As children become more familiar with patterns, it will not only open the door to more complex math concepts, but it will also increase logic and reasoning skills.


Fractions may seem like a concept far beyond a preschooler’s grasp, and as a formal, worksheet type concept, it is.  As a foundation concept it is not.  At the preschool level, children can experiment with the concept of halves, and that a whole can be divided into parts.  Think of dividing an apple.  You can slice one into eight slices, but you can also place them back together to reveal that you still have only one whole apple.  This is a concept preschoolers can understand, and when they do, they are primed for the more complex concepts to come.

Talking Math

Math is a very abstract concept.  The terms and operations mean little when taken out of context.  (What does the word “two” mean if you’ve never held a group of two objects?)  Use concrete objects as often as possible when working with young children.  Take advantage of authentic experiences as they arise in the day to use math terms.  (You have 5 crackers and I have 3.  I have less than you do!)  Encourage them to verbalize as you work together so that they can gain ownership and an authentication of the concepts, building connections in their own minds to make the concepts firm.


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Pro-social Skills

Photo provided by hroylo.

While preschools are becoming more and more academic, many are losing sight of one of the premier goals of preschool: developing social skills.  A play based preschool plunges young children into social situations with other egocentric preschoolers and provides them with meaningful, purposeful opportunities to learn how to negotiate, share, solve conflicts, and show empathy.  Preschool is also one of the first environments where young children are taught to attend and listen, follow directions, and work effectively and cooperatively with a group of peers.  While many parents (and schools for that matter) worry about assessing kindergarten readiness by ticking off a list of academic skills (“Recites ABCs…check.  Writes own name…check check.”) the best predictor of school readiness is the ability to behave appropriately in a social situation, attend to instruction and follow directions, and get along well with others.  Mastery of these behaviors is essential not only for school success, but for life success! 

Social skills are developed through interactions with peers, observed and moderated by caring adults.  You can model social skills through instruction (stories, puppets, discussion, role playing), but the skills are solidified most effectively through meaningful interactions.  Think of it this way: Your teenager may have every rule in the DMV issued driver’s manual memorized, but until your teenager spends some time getting some guided experience behind the wheel, there’s no chance you’ll be handing over the keys any time soon! 

Developing pro-social skills comes with moderated social interactions, but also requires a development of language skills to allow the child to express strong emotions appropriately, to negotiate, and to communicate needs.  Often, children act out with tantrums and other undesirable physical behavior because their ability to feel intense emotions far exceeds their ability to verbally express those emotions.  When we give children the vocabulary tools and social skills necessary to express their feelings and negotiate their desires they are less likely to rely on these negative behaviors.  This skill can really only be built when children are given the opportunity to feel those intense emotions and gain the discipline to overcome them by using social tools.  In fact, while it is desirable to have a preschool environment free from excessive contention, it is not productive for the children to have an environment free from all conflict.  It is in conflict that they truly learn to create a positive outcome through sharing, mediating, negotiating, and communicating.   All the social skills lessons will do little until the child experiences the tempest of frustration and feels the power and calm of creating resolution.

Read more on this topic here.


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Language & Literacy

Photo provided by Bies

A bandaid feel me better.”  We relish the quirky sayings our children devise as they wade through the task of decoding the furtive rules we use as we communicate.  Our children’s faulty contrivances are not only endearing, but give us some insight into their progress as they decipher our mysterious code. 

The development of language and literacy skills are key to success not only academically, but in life.  Brilliance of thought or tenderness of feelings can easily go unnoticed without the ability to properly and effectively communicate.  In the words of psychologist Lev Vygotsky, “A word devoid of thought is a dead thing, and a thought unembodied in words remains a shadow.”  Moreover, language serves as the channel for most learning, as it involves the ability to receive information whether it be instructional, social, or otherwise.

Language and literacy span a HUGE list of skills and categories, and represent a rapidly advancing aspect of a child’s development.  Children are almost constantly surrounded by language whether in print, in song, in conversation (with adults or other child-decipherers), or even within their own minds.  It is critical to their development as well as their daily life.

Language includes receptive language (listening and understanding), and expressive language (effectively communicating ideas).  Both spheres require the continued mastery of vocabulary, something we continue to hone throughout adulthood (though, unfortunately, at a much more sluggish pace than our younger selves), as well as grammar and semantics.  Language development also includes the advancement of oral and aural skills, often a matter of muscle and air control, discernment of sounds, or learned active listening skills, which frequently come with experience combined with physical growth and development.

Literacy development incorporates a sizable list of activities and skills comprised in the early childhood experience.  In simple terms it is reading and writing, but these skills are end goals, not the jumping off point.  At the preschool level, children must build the foundations necessary to later become independent readers and writers.  They must be able to discern sounds before they can manipulate them, manipulate them before they can anticipate them, and anticipate them before they can read them. Then, to varying degrees appropriate to their own developmental levels, they become readers and writers themselves.

While many programs check the box next to Literacy by handing out alphabet coloring sheets, letter recognition is but one part of early literacy development.  Along with letter recognition, one of the strongest predictors at the preschool level of literacy success in later years is phonological awareness (the ability to hear and manipulate sounds in words-think Dr. Seuss).  This involves the ability to hear and create things like rhymes and alliterations – key components in fingerplays, nursery rhymes, and songs.  These types of activities may be seen as cute, or “soft”, but they are essential to developing successful readers!  Literacy is also encouraged as children and adults read and write books together, explore environmental print (simply print in the child’s environment: cereal boxes, restaurant signs, labels, DVD boxes, etc.), and engage in conversation.

Surrounding children in a print-rich, language-rich environment and expressing to them our passion for language and literacy in word and in deed goes a long way to building successful, life-long learners.

You may also be interested in the article, A Culture of Literacy: Teaching Preschoolers the ABC’s and More.


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Sensory / Science

Photo provided by D-Squared.

Science is often thought of in academic terms, with images of lab coats, safety goggles, and beakers coming to mind.  In the world of a preschooler, science is life itself!  The Scientific Method is simply the art of inquiry, an art these newcomers to this great planet often summarize in the word, “why”.  “Why?”, is a succinct question any parent or teacher of preschoolers hears multiple times a day, and can understandably tire of.  What we must remind ourselves of is the fact that this one-word question is also an expression of a desire to learn.  When we feel bombarded by the redundant machine-gun fire of why’s, we must remember that our children are saying, “We’ve only been around here a few years now, and everything is new and fascinating!  Please teach me!”

Children explore their world through the use of the Scientific Method, or Scientific Inquiry.  It includes:

1-Questioning (Hypothesizing, Predicting)

2-Investigating (Experience/Experiment, Explore, Create)

3a-Using senses and simple tools to collect data (Observing, Classifying)

3b- Using data (including past experience) to develop explanation or conclusion

4-Communicating findings (Language Development)

Because data collection is often done by using the senses, sensory development through sensory play, is imperative in honing the child’s number one scientific tool: the five senses.  This can be done through a variety of activities as we encourage the children to use, attend to, and discuss the five senses.  It can also be done through the use of a sensory table (also known as a sand and water table).  These tables are used to hold a variety of media for exploration (colored rice, ice and salt, water, sawdust, etc.).  As the children manipulate these different media they learn scientific concepts from the information acquired through the use of their senses, particularly by being able to manipulate the objects themselves.

At the preschool level, science categories can be broken down to include Physical Science (physical features and  properties, sound, light, water, states of matter, movement, etc.), Life Science (living vs. nonliving, needs of living things, life cycles, growth, body parts of living things), and Earth & Space Science (environmental components, natural features, weather and seasons, components of the sky).

While science is easily segregated for the purpose of discussion, it is integrated throughout the preschooler’s life and educational experiences.  Any time children wonder what the flour in your pantry feels like, what would happen if they stacked every block they owned on top of each other, or whether or not they can fit their heads through the balusters in the stairs, they are engaging in the scientific process of inquiry.


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Motor Skills and Physical Development

Photo provided by tridzindia.

When it comes to physical development, preschoolers are attempting to master an ever-changing task.  As a child grows (often in spurts so startling they suddenly begin looking akin to the Incredible Hulk in their own clothing), aspects such as her center of balance, strength, and limb length change with it.  This can make motor skill mastery particularly difficult (imagine trying to become a tennis pro while daily someone stealthily changes the reach and size of your racket as well as the weight and bounce of the ball), and it is just one reason why children need frequent opportunities for developing physical skills.

Motor skills can be broken down into two categories: fine motor skills, and gross motor skills.  (These may also be referred to as small motor and large motor.)  Fine motor skills include smaller movements, most often involving the fingers and hands and frequently involving eye-hand coordination and the use of a pincer grasp (the thumb to forefinger grasp used in activities such as writing, sewing, and lacing).  Gross motor skills are the larger movements using larger muscle groups, generally in the arms and legs such as jumping, running, kicking, throwing, and the like.

As children progress in their physical development and the development of motor skills, they also become more capable of developing self-help skills (dressing self, hanging up backpacks, using the restroom independently, etc.).  Developing this independence is necessary both for the child’s development of confidence and personal responsibility, while also easing the workload of the adults involved in the care of the child!


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